Black Mirror, Black Hole: Kill Your Television

don't waste your time TV screenWould you believe that some people think the internet is a time waster? Well, not at this particular address of course, but we can think of some other sites that are absolute rabbit holes without so much as a rousing game of croquet at the bottom. If you need help achieving what Tim Ferriss dubbed a Low Information Diet, there are browser extensions that will block your access to sites that keep you from getting things done. [Ivan's girlfriend] has taken this time management tack seriously and even created a simple web page that states “Don’t Waste Your Time!” that will show if she tries to get to Facebook.

There’s one small problem with all this, and it’s been around for a long time. [Ivan's girlfriend] still watches TV. Out of love and respect for her goals, he decided to prank her by blocking her TV viewing. In a delightful twist, the TV will display her own web page to her after 30 seconds.

They have digital and analog TVs, so he had to set up both in order to cover his bases. The digital TV is a monitor fed from a set-top box with HDMI out. As the STB can only be controlled via IR remote, [Ivan] used an HDMI switch to change from the STB input to a Raspi that will display the reprimanding web page and play Pink Floyd’s “Time“.

The analog TV took  slightly more doing. He put a Raspi on the AV input, but connected it from the inside so nothing looked suspicious. The Raspi checks the TV status every second and switches to the Pi once the TV is on. Same deal: judgmental web page, Pink Floyd. The beauty part is that both of [Ivan]‘s setups also record her reaction; the digital TV uses a dash camera and the analog  uses an Android phone. Check out [Ivan]‘s tour of the analog TV Pi after the break.

If you or [Ivan's girlfriend] need even more time management help, there’s always the roll-your-own-Pomodoro timer.

 

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Micro-Robots Are Scary Awesome

microrobots

A team of scientists at SRI international are creating real-life replicators from Star Gate SG1 — micro-robots capable of smart (and scary!) manufacturing. Thousands working in parallel will be able to achieve tasks previously unheard of, in a completely compact and integrated system.

These tiny ant-like robot systems are magnetically controlled and can use tools, move at incredible speeds, and swarm over surfaces. SRI’s vision was “to have an army of ants under your control”. It’s actually been an ongoing project since the 1990′s — but a recent undisclosed chunk of funding from DARPA has helped accelerate the project — giving it a new title of the MicroFactory for Macro Products project.

You have to see the video to believe it. Potential applications for these tiny swarm-bots include precise pick & place manufacturing, micro bio-technology, electronics manufacturing, and even rapid prototyping of high quality parts.

We get shivers just watching them slide around effortlessly on almost any surface.

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Video: Getting Your Feet Wet with Programmable System On Chip

 

Ever since I received my PSOC 4 Pioneer kit from Cypress I have wanted to play with this little mixed-signal Programmable System-on-Chip (PSOC) developer board. I love developer boards, providing that they are priced in a way to entice me to not only open my wallet but also make time in a busy schedule. I think my kit was free after winning a swag bag from Adafruit that they themselves obtained at the Open Hardware Summit and gave away on their weekly streamcast. Ultimately it was the invitation to beta test datasheet.net which also was included in that pile of swag that led to my getting involved with Hackaday.

Pioneer 4 Development Kit

PSCO4 Development Board on Hackaday

What is Programmable System On Chip?

So what is a PSOC 4? A quick summary is that it’s based on an ARM Cortex reduced instruction set processor (RISC) and is somewhat capable of supporting shields based on the Arduino footprint, and it also uses a bright red PCB that I have come to associate with a Sparkfun PCB. What doesn’t show is the fact that this programmable system on chip has programmable analog function blocks in addition to programmable digital logic blocks. There is also some supporting input/output circuitry such as a multicolored LED and a capacitive touch sensor directly on the PCB.

This is an intriguing amount of programmability, so much so that Newark/Element 14 highlighted a “100 projects in 100 days” event on it.

Enter the IDE

Over the years I have had to create or install many Integrated Development Environments (IDE) that linked hardware to software. Knowing that you had to, and how to, implement an IDE was part of being an engineer. Nowadays with the Arduino type environment the user has an IDE pretty much as soon as they click on the executable which I find to be one of the best aspects of the genre. It was so quick in fact that I was able to get my teenaged son into writing his first program even before he remembered to do massive eye-rolls and make sounds of utter disdain. He did give up however, just shy of learning how to have the Arduino make sounds of disdain on his behalf.

PSCo4 Cypress Development Kit on Hackaday

Closeup of a Programmable System on Chip Development System

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TherMOFOrmer

Mofo

3D printers are the tool of choice for all the hackerspaces we’ve been to, and laser cutters take a close second. There’s another class of plastic manipulating machines that doesn’t get enough credit with the hackerspace crowd – the vacuum thermoformer. Surprisingly, there haven’t been many – if any – vacuum formers on Kickstarter. Until now, that is.

[Ben] and [Calvin] are the guys behind the MOFO, and built their machine around ease of use and reliability. After a few prototypes, they settled on their design of aluminum extrusion for the frame, a ceramic heating element for the heater, and an off-the-shelf PID controller for the electronics.

The MOFO has so far been tested with polycarbonate, acrylic, PETG and styrene with good results. The Kickstarter has reward levels of $500 for a 12″x12″ work area, and $1000 for a 24″x24″ work area. That’s not too bad, and building your own similar thermoformer would probably cost just as much. Just the thing if you need to print out a few dozen sets of storm trooper armor.

 

Sci-Fi Contest Roundup: Science Nonfiction

Yep, we have a Sci-Fi contest on our hands, with a week to go until entries are due. There are amazing prizes for the best Sci-Fi build, but in the spirit of the Internet, a few teams have elected to put together a science nonfiction project. We won’t hold that against them, because these builds are really, really cool.

Rockin’ bogie, man

rockerFirst up in the ‘real life science fiction’ category is an adorable little rocker bogie robot designed and built by a team at MADspace, the Eindhoven Hackerspace.

A rocker bogie suspension is rather unique in that it can be used to drive over obstacles twice the size of the wheels, has a zero turning radius, and is found on every rover that has ever gone to Mars. The suspension system has articulated rockers on each side of the chassis , with pivoting wheels at each of the four corners of the robot. While this type of suspension can’t go very fast, it can go just about anywhere.

The team loaded up their bot with a Raspberry Pi, a pair of webcams, 20Ah of batteries, gyro, and a web interface. The suspension works beautifully, and most of the parts are 3D printable. Very cool. There’s a pair of videos with this bot in action below.

Spider bot. Just add two more legs.

Hex

Continuing on with the science nonfiction theme of this post is a cute little hexapod walker reminiscent of designs that have been proposed to visit the moon and asteroids.

This is a rather unique hexapod, controlled entirely with 12 PWM channels on an ATMega1284. Although each leg only has two degrees of freedom (the software has support for 3 DOF, though) the movement is surprisingly smooth. It’s an inexpensive build, too, with 5 gram servos providing all the power to the legs. Video below.

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Need An Idea For Your Next Kickstarter? Check Out This Kickstarter!

META

Kickstarter has become the most powerful force in kickstarting new hardware projects, video games, documentaries, and board games, and now everyone wants a piece of the action. The problem obviously isn’t product development and engineering; you can just conjure that up with a little bit of Photoshop and some good PR. The only you really need for a good Kickstarter is an idea, and META is just the tool for the job. It’s the Arduino-powered Motivational Electronic Text Adviser, the perfect device to generate the next big idea in the world of crowdfunding.

The Arduino-powered META includes three buttons and an Arduino-controlled LCD display. Press a button, and the next big hardware project to wash across the blogs faster than the announcement of a campaign for a $300 3D printer will appear on the screen.

Because META is Arduino-compatible, it’s compatible with existing Arduino sketches. This makes turning the META into the next home automated Bluetooth low energy 4.0 internet of things a snap. Because this is open hardware the laser cut enclosure can easily be upgraded to an RGB LED 3D printer robotic drone bluetooth boombox.

If Kickstarters aren’t your thing, there’s also a cloud-based META that will generate ideas in the mobile app browser cloud. Bitcoin.

I2S Audio And SPI Display With An Ethernet Module

LCD[kgsws] is working on a small project that requires some audio and a display of some sort. While this project can be easily completed with a bigish microcontroller or ARM board, he’s taking a much simpler route: the entire project is built around a cheap router module, giving this project amazing expandability for a very meager price.

The router module in question is the HLK-RM04 from Hi-Link, commonly found via the usual Chinese resellers for about $25. On board this module is a UART, Ethernet, and a WiFi adapter along with a few GPIO pins for interfacing with the outside world.

[kgsws] is using the native SPI pins on this module to control the clock and data lines for the tiny LCD, with a GPIO pin toggling the chip select. I2S audio is also implemented, decoded with an 8-bit DAC, the MCP4801.

It’s an extremely inexpensive solution for putting audio and video in a project, and since this board has Ethernet, WiFi, and a few more GPIO pins, it’s can do much more than whatever [kgsws] is planning next.